Monday, August 24, 2009

an open letter to anyone in wheaton . . .

County Parking Lot 13, Wheaton

. . .who has ever said "We don't ever want to be 'fake' like Silver Spring."

Hey, Wheaton? Could you come over here a second? Thanks.

Now please shut up.

As someone who grew up in Downtown Silver Spring before it was Downtown Silver Spring, I understand your pain. I remember walking down streets lined with empty and abandoned buildings and discovering the many ways that different cultures combine bread and meat into various ethnic dishes. (Is it taco, a gyro, or a pita? So many options!) And, yes, I even remember going to Westfield Wheaton before it was Westfield Wheaton, when its tenants included a knife shop and a branch library.

But I don't have any patience for this "I don't want to be like Silver Spring it is so fake" crap, especially because y'all are no Columbia Heights yourselves. Save it, please. I don't see the crowds flooding into Wheaton every Friday night to walk around holding a skateboard and grimacing at people. I don't hear about people paying $3,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in Wheaton. I hear about public drunkenness and an awesome movie theatre that closed after two months.

Yes, Wheaton is different from Silver Spring. I appreciate that. Yes, Wheaton has lots of small businesses. That's great. I love El Pollo Rico, as well as Full Key, Paul Kee, Max's, the place where the punk club Phantasmagoria used to be (so scary as a little kid), Chuck Levin's (my little brother bought his guitar there and complained the area looked "sketchy"), De Lounge (still haven't gone yet) and DeJaBel Cafe. (I have also heard good things about Marchone's.) And I agree that they're threatened by the ever-lingering spectre of Gentrification, which is sure taking its sweet time. Those townhouses on top of the Metro sold for like $600,000 a couple years back, but their residents are probably spending their time and money at Pier 1 Imports in Silver Spring. (Sorry.)

Remember, Wheaton, you have a mall with "over 200 stores", almost all of which (except for that "Foreign Flix" place) are chain stores. Most every phase of my teenage reinventions took place in Wheaton as I flitted from PacSun to Hollister to Express. I defy you to find that many chains in Silver Spring's entire central business district.

No one is saying that Wheaton has to install a fountain with a colorful mosaic and a plastic turf field and change the name of Ennalls Avenue to Ellsworth Drive. At least, I'm not. But you'll never be anything if you keep going on about what you don't want. I want to hear what Wheaton wants to be. Take that and give it to your elected officials/your citizens advisory board/local developers and tell them "We want X, Y and Z or we will bring you down like Circuit City." Hey, it worked with the Trader Joe's in Burnt Mills. If a group of committed people write enough letters, anything is possible. And now I can have Two-Buck Chuck whenever I want.

So don't fret, Wheaton. No one's calling you Silver Spring North (or Bethesda North East) yet. If you're still feeling cranky later, come along by and I'll give you some tips on how to "brand" yourself so you DON'T become all "fake." Because as I always say, the buildings might be fake, but the people look real to me.

Dan Reed


retgroclk said...

What to make of Wheaton?
Another Silver Spring with too many reastaurants-- maybe- I am kind of tired of all the asian and hispanic eating places-- a nice seafood or steak restaurant would be nice.

Another Adams Morgan- God forbid- we do not need more traffic , loud noise or drunks walking around after hours.

I do not go to Westfield except to shop at Giant.

I much prefer the Target in Rockville or the one off of Cherry Hill Road.

Due to health problems- I find that Silver Spring and Wheaton are not conducive to those with mobilty problems.

Wheaton at night- not too safe--
Parking during the day-- scarce in the Triangle area

Wheaton needs to be changed-- I just do not know how.

Bob Fustero

Sligo said...

They don't sell wine at the Trader Joe's in Burnt Mills. This is Montgomery County, remember?

There are so many things about Wheaton I could say, but I will refrain because it would inevitably start a flame war. When I was younger, Wheaton used to be good for a lot of things, but now most of them are gone:

- Juvenile Sales
- Surplus Plus
- Bonifant Books (named after a street in Silver Spring)
- House of Cards (now IN Silver Spring)
- Barry's Magic Shop
- Circuit City (this was once a good company)
- Movies (before City Place 10)

Barbarian Books is amazingly still around, I think.

To its credit, there are some good restaurants in Wheaton. I really like Nava Thai, I just wish they'd hire more cooks.

dave in wheaton said...

Amen Dan!

God forbid Wheaton is turned into SS or Rockville or Bethesda by the evil corporations and the parks and planning professionals that work for them. I see that sentiment a lot on the interwebs. But, the neighborhood meetings about Wheaton's future I've attended are much different.

There is a little of that, sure. But most people attending seem to just want basic things like fewer dilapidated strip malls, more public common space, safer sidewalks and crosswalks, fewer drunks. How do we get these things?

1. We have to attract private investment - new development, even if that is a threat to some local businesses. First, we need new office space above the Metro so that there are people in town during the day to spend money.
2. We need public space - lot13, the big surface parking lot in the center of town, is a waste. Make it a public green space. The businesses directly abutting lot13 will raise hell, but will actually do better if a successful town square gets built. (There are 2 huge, mostly empty garages less than 2 blocks away which would be easy to use if crossing the major arteries were easier, which brings me to...)
3. Make walking around less dangerous. Fix intersections, build bump-outs, separate sidewalks from the highways with some kind of barriers so I don't feel like I could be hit from behind at any moment.

These are my positive prescriptions. What do other Wheatonians want to see done?

Cilla said...

Well said, Dan!
I have lived in Wheaton for 26 years and
I have to agree that unless, and until, we get tenants into the big office building currently at (Westfield) Wheaton Plaza, and the one that is on the drawing boards for Wheaton Metro, we will not have the daytime foot traffic to support the local shops and restaurants adequately. To me, that is Priority One. Later, for "taking back the night."

If I remember correctly, it seems that until DTSS "anchored" its business day (or daylight) hours, it did not begin to make much progress on the night time safety and business issues.

Dan Reed said...

You can tell I don't really shop at Trader Joe's. Four years with the College Park Shoppers and I forgot that supermarkets don't sell booze here. And I'm not going to Columbia for a bottle of two-dollar wine.

retgroclk said...

Dan--Supermarkets do sell beer and wine- the County policy is- "Only one store per chain may cary beer and wine.

Thus- you have the Giant in White Oak selling beer and wine but no others in the County.

The 7-11 on Layhill and Georgia use to sell beer and wine- the only one in the County and soon and so on.

Robert said...

Wheaton Plaza didn't have a branch library. It did have a Montgomery County Friends of the Library used book store for a while, and that may be what you are remembering.

hockeypunk said...

Wait, Dan, they sell Two-Buck-Chuck in Columbia?? Man I'd go up there. I thought they only sold it at Trader Joe's in VA

Thomas Hardman said...

Dan Reed wrote, in part,
I don't see the crowds flooding into Wheaton every Friday night to walk around holding a skateboard and grimacing at people.

Thank GOD.

I'm guessing that it won't be long before we get paens of propaganda about how wonderful Wheaton would be if only they paved over the existing library and made it into Shiny New Townhomes (tm) and built a Towering Beehive including a library inaccessible to the handicapped and isolated from the rest of the area by a New and Improved High Traffic Triangle with a park in the middle nobody can get to unless they ride in from somewhere else on MetroRail.

Then again, maybe nobody has enough chutzpah to say as much in so terse a remark.

Wheaton does indeed need some sprucing up and a make-over.

Left to its own devices, it could easily become just a writ-large version of Aspen Manor Shopping Center, a beat-down jumble, mostly of stores that nobody else would allows in their strip mall, jam-packed mostly by the poorest of the poor, reeking of urine and exclusive of all that is not blatantly underclass or self-righteously and unyieldingly alien.

But Wheaton has been fighting that fight for years, and has manage to accomodate everyone without being taken over and ruined by anyone. The County has mostly been working with Wheaton, not imposing itself on Wheaton, well, up until the recent forcible dislodging of Barry's Magic Shop and Bonifant Books, to name but a few.

But Wheaton's most attractive thing is its down-home funkiness and the lack of things like City Place, and the feeling that you get of something that's as old as it wants to be and aging at the rage it wants to age, admitting the new as it wants to admit the new, rather than getting paved over and replaced wholesale. They've seen how that replaced-wholesale works. The new condos/apartments atop the Metro station aren't even 3 years old and they somehow already reek of advanced decay, not unlike a toddler with leukemia. Maybe it's just the economy, or maybe it's just a really good example of how you can think you're building a shiny beehive of industrious worker drones, and really you're just recreating a smaller and more-walkable-to-amenities version of the Welfare Towers.

Whatever: change is coming, even to Wheaton. Just always wonder if people will praise your gifts to posterity, or curse a legacy foisted off as a good idea, when it was anything but.

Casey A said...

How about redeveloping Wheaton Mall to include some mixed use (condos on the mall property)? The neighbors will oppose it, of course, but in this economy the alternative is probably to watch the mall lose one tenant after another for the forseeable future. We can't afford to allow the mall to become a hollowed out shell, so why not encourage construction of housing, which might also draw tenants that cater to residents (maybe a hardware store, dry cleaner, etc.). It would certainly be well supported by transit, as the metro is practically on top of the site.

Unknown said...

I live in Wheaton. The mall is fine, but the rest of the area is...troubling.

Generally, I think the existing businesses need to clean up a bit. The biggest issue is that--even as a local--there are not a lot of "good" places to go get a drink or dinner. If I'm missing them, please let me know.

I'm also sad that De Lounge/Rehab is no longer there, but they too suffered from lack of investment.

Beltway Progressive said...

I'd like to see the existing stores clean up a bit. Other than the fact that each store is more unique inside, it's not all that different from Rockville Pike and they are able to keep up the facades. From the outside, every place looks like a dump and unless you already knew where you wanted to go, it looks dirty and fire-trap-y and even dangerous. Even a one-for-all power wash and paint job would help. Could the county give micro loans or fund a project to clean up all the store facades? I'd also like to see something besides high-fat food, like an all-ages activity to burn off those calories. Instead of moving the library: A place for paintball? Laser tag? Rock climbing?